It has been just over a year since The 1975 released their self-titled début album, and their UK tour promoting the record has now come to an end with their largest gig to date, an all-out extravaganza at Alexandra Palace, a brilliant venue with a beautiful view of London.
Ally Pally, as the cool kids and the Palace’s marketing people call it, is somewhere I get the impression most Londoners know of, but comparatively few have actually visited. After all, it is closer to the M25 than to the capital’s centre, and, despite the heavy northern bias of the tube map, is not particularly conveniently served, with the nearest station a mile away. Assuming one isn’t resigning oneself to the use of a bus from a distant origin, the most convenient transport link is the Alexandra Palace train station, an early stop on Proper Train services to Bedfordshire, Hertfordshire and Beyond.
To say that I am not the fittest human lumbering around this planet would be quite the understatement, but even the sprightliest young visitor will suffer on the half-mile ascent from railway cutting to palatial precipice. In the case of my visit, I suspect the prevalence of improbably constricting skinny black jeans was a terrible hindrance to my fellow mountaineers. Once you get there, though, the panoramic perspective on our city is breathtaking. Turn around, and the imposing but welcoming grandeur of the Victorian edifice is similarly striking.
These chaps have spent almost half their lives together, playing music together, and it shows
Designed as the opposing compass point’s counterpart to the Crystal Palace, it was constructed two decades after its southern sister. Both buildings were ravaged by fire, but Ally Pally’s inferno occurred only two years after its opening – quite the unusual stroke of luck as far as blazes go; by the time the Crystal Palace burned in the 1930s, with paltry insurance unable to cover the costs, the impetus of Imperial pride was no longer important enough to prompt reconstruction.
Between songs, Matt Healy, The 1975’s simultaneously self-assured yet self-conscious frontman, announced to an adoring crowd that the band were overwhelmed by their rapid rise to stardom. He noted that eighteen months earlier they had been drawing handfuls of devotees at venues fashionable but far-flung, and quite unlike the unfathomably vast Great Hall with its thousands of fans.
And it’s not just the Great Hall at Alexandra Palace – an ante-room more capacious than most music venues played host to hundreds of feet of bars, a Smörgåsbord of festival food, and an astroturf lounging area the size of a small inner-city park. It truly is a sight to behold, and a world away from the similarly-aged live location staples elsewhere in London.
By now, you are no doubt furious at me for recollecting the building rather than reviewing the band, and probably chuckling at my stalling tactics. After all, I’m in my mid-twenties, and I’m writing about a band for teenage girls, right? Stop right there.
It’s easy to get distracted by the wine-swigging stage persona of the man standing on the monitor, glance at the fans below, and forget just how tight these boys are
The shrill screams of pubescent females are, indeed, a feature of The 1975’s fan base. Perhaps it was the poppy punch of the album, promoted by a One Direction endorsement after a Radio 1 Live Lounge cover, which opened the door. But it certainly wasn’t the band’s intention. For starters, under a variety of names, Matty, Adam, George, Ross, and now John, the formerly absent but now essential sax man, have been playing together for over a decade, longer than the lives of some in the crowd.
Such history is a foil to those who would dismiss them as a flash-in-the-pan boy band. These chaps have spent almost half their lives together, playing music together, and it shows. Detractors see trends like Healy’s recent pattern of grabbing a young fan on stage to experience the silly teenage love ballad Robbers at close quarters and fail to realise that behind this subserviently fan-oriented fun, there is still a stage filled with strong musicians who are locked together.
It’s easy to get distracted by the wine-swigging stage persona of the man standing on the monitor, glance at the fans below, and forget just how tight these boys are. It’s not a backing track; it’s top notch live performance, and yes, it is augmented by image and spectacle, like every great pop, metal, and rock band. Do we criticise The Beatles because of their fan response? From Michael Jackson to Mötley Crüe, this is nothing new.
On the subject of 1980s titans, a quick glance through any interview reveals, if it weren’t obvious already, that the Mancunians are lovers of that period of popular music and culture, even though they weren’t here for it. Healy, acting as band spokesman off stage as well as on, talks John Hughes, Yazoo, and the King of Pop. Juxtaposed with this, they draw from R&B to infuse bouncy pop with the odd aural pelvic thrust. And to round it all off, while their album confined the more experimental, ambient material to introduction and interludes, the quartet of EPs preceding its release were packed with instrumental soundscapes and post-rock.
In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m a big fan. I’m not without criticism, though. I saw them play back in January and it felt more intimate
This pre-album variety is not neglected in their live show. Entering and exiting the stage under waves of electronic drones, and filling minutes of inter-song preparation with glorious pads, noodled over by the talented John Waugh, the band can dynamically break into the power of their upbeat singles, but just as easily drift down into the subdued introspection of the very personal Me and fallingforyou, both pre-album cuts, played back-to-back under dimmed lights over a magical ten minutes.
Everyone shut up, ‘cause this song’s about me, chastised Healy, before spilling his heart out. Reconciling with the audience afterwards, at his bidding the hall was illuminated by the glow of phones and lighters (although the latter seem to be a dying phenomenon, and while a snobby part of me is dismayed by this, I did burn my hand in the process).
Quickly picking up again, The 1975 lads kept at it at a staggering pace, and by the time we had sped through the hotboxed car of Chocolate and reached the distorted guitars and ecstatic thrashing of the Sex finale, we had heard almost the entire album, and a good selection of the best bits from the year before it.
In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m a big fan. I’m not without criticism, though. I saw them play back in January at the Brixton Academy, and despite being a big headline gig too, it felt more intimate, unplanned, spontaneous, than this did. The idiosyncrasies, the red wine wielding Healy and his off-the-cuff chats didn’t quite have that same organic rapport with the crowd. Everything was there, but everything felt a little too choreographed.
I’m closer to 30 than the 18 these guys were when they wrote the tear-jerking, lovesick fan-favourite Robbers
They have been playing this show for a year straight, which is inevitably one of the reasons why. The band definitely noted this point themselves, I recognise, asking at one point for phones to be put away, because most of the crowd had yet to experience them live, their appreciation formed through the distant medium of the screen alone. Additionally, they have just come off the main stage festival circuit of the summer, where set lists and time limits play a much bigger role than a headline gig, but they’ve also walked straight into a scenario where tweens and their dads are dotted about.
Drunken, profane pontification like we saw at Glastonbury is not appropriate, no matter how entertaining it might be for the older fans. The 1975 have to walk a tightrope here, putting on the show they want to while being respectful of the makeup of the crowd who’ve come to see them – a crowd they make a point of sincerely thanking for their success. And while the outcome of this compromise is the cause of my criticism, it’s also commendable.
I confess that while sipping a pint in the conspicuously quiet, 18+ bar open after the main event, a petty part of me wanted to give a good dressing down to the kids being picked up by fathers in sensible family cars, heading back to their suburban beds before school in the morning. Muttering to myself about motifs of depression, guilt, substances, Real Problems, and how the youngsters couldn’t really understand it all, I soon realised that I sounded just like the petulant, know-it-all teen windmills I was tilting at.
They espouse an adoration of the adolescent, viewed through a lens which, bipolar in its uncertainty, sometimes rose-tints, and just as often chills with Weltschmerz and self-deprecation
I can (and will) preach about obscure musical influences and lyrical adult themes all I like, but fundamentally it’s pretentious pop and red wine romance. It’s immature, idealistic, like the girls screaming in selfies at the front of the stage, and that’s okay. There’s something for everyone, because it doesn’t matter what the band’s creative process is, or what each lyric is supposed to mean; your individual interpretation is the correct one, you are the pretentious pop star, and this song is about you.
I’m closer to 30 than the 18 these guys were when they wrote the tear-jerking, lovesick fan-favourite Robbers (as are they), and I’ll wager that neither they nor I see the song quite like they did seven years ago. Unlike a Disney film, youth-targeted but dusted with innuendo to placate the parents, The 1975 are just a bunch of boys being themselves, and demonstrating that the fabled boundary where one becomes a “grown-up” is, in fact, rather elusive.
They espouse an adoration of the adolescent, viewed through a lens which, bipolar in its uncertainty, sometimes rose-tints, and just as often chills with Weltschmerz and self-deprecation. Their repertoire ranges from tortuous emotional wrangling to, as Healy announced to festival crowds again and again this year, a song “about shagging”.
Few of us ever truly and completely let go of the wild transition from youth to adulthood (if we can say we ever finish it at all). Packing out a Palace with naughty teens of all ages is truly the mark of a band which knows how to capture that persistent part of us